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Chapter Thirty-One. George Washington's Mind

William M. Ferraro

Subject History » Intellectual History

Place Americas » Northern America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

Key-Topics education

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444331035.2012.00033.x


Biographers and scholars have examined the singular life and career of George Washington from virtually every conceivable perspective. Surprisingly, however, little serious or sustained attention has been given to the character of his mind. More startling is the fact that many who considered Washington's intellect have been lukewarm or slighting, and in some cases, harsh or derogatory. Jonathan Boucher, a minister whom Washington had hired to tutor his stepson, John Parke Custis, was an early critic. In 1776, after he had sided with the Loyalists, Boucher disparaged the limited education of his former employer and unflatteringly characterized him as “shy, silent, slow, and cautious,” with “no quickness of parts, extraordinary penetration, nor an elevated style of thinking.” Bennet Allen, an Englishman educated at Oxford's Wadham College, demeaned Washington in 1776 as a “mediocrity” whose “want of education renders him diffident.” More pointedly, a writer in 1778 known only as “An Old Soldier” believed it “more than probable” that Washington “never will be a great soldier” because of his “slow parts, and these are totally unassisted by any kind of education.” His comments appeared initially in Lloyd's Evening Post for 17 August 1778 and gained wider circulation in the Gentleman's Magazine and Westminster Magazine issues for that same month. Less harsh, but still critical, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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